So we have been at the program for three days now and I am super excited about what we have left to do in Belize! On the first day after arriving from the airport we had orientation and introduction for the course. Then on the 2nd day, we started off with a nature walk,on one of the trails at the Tropical Education Center where we are staying. On this walk we learned about the native flora and fauna that were visible on the trail, including the Grey Cat Bird. This bird makes a distinctive “meow”, and can also be found in North America. We also learned about the “Tourist Tree”, named because its peeling bark is said to look like sunburnt tourists. After our walk we had a series of lectures on the topics of Wildlife in Belize, Wildlife Medicine and Rehab, and a presentation given by the founder of the Belize Zoo about the Zoo’s History.
Today we were at the zoo the whole day! The first thing we did was listen to a presentation of the impacts of zoos and conservation. Then we did a physical exam on the most docile Tapir in the Belize Zoo, his name is “Bullet Head”. The Tapir is the National Animal of Belize, there used to be a huge negative stigma around them until the education program at the zoo expanded their outreach to improve the image around the Tapirs, Jaguars, Barn Owls and Harpy Eagles, among other animals. Tapirs are nicknamed the “Mountain Cow”, besides the fact that they are related to horses.
After the physical exam, we looked at an albino Coatimundi because she had a mass growing on one side of her cheek. The vet we are working with took samples from the mass to look at them closely under the microscope.
Then after we ate lunch, our group got a special look at the “Problem Jaguars” that the zoo cares for and trains. These Jaguars are labeled as an issue because they are going after livestock and dogs, instead of their typical prey. The Zoo works with the Forest Service to look into trapping and rehabilitating these Jaguars if possible, if the reasons brought forward are valid. Sadly, a lot of the “Problem Jaguars”, have other ailments (typically eye or teeth abnormalities), which may contribute to why they are going after easier prey like livestock. These issues prevent them from being re-released, so they are trained and worked with at the zoo, so that they can become ambassadors of their species for the people that visit the Belize Zoo.
All of the animals at the zoo are animals that were rescued and were not able to be released back into the wild, with the exception of some that were donated by other zoos. The Belize Zoo is dedicated to the conservation of wildlife in Belize and to their education program. One of the main goals that the zoo has is for people to form bonds and connections with these animals, so that the wildlife is respected by the native and visitors.